ISIS advances further toward Syria’s Ain al-Arab

Turkish soldiers stand guard as Syrian Kurdish refugees wait behind the border fences to cross into Turkey near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province.

Turkish soldiers stand guard as Syrian Kurdish refugees wait behind the border fences to cross into Turkey near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province.

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group fighters have advanced further towards the Syrian Kurdish town of Ain al-Arab, a monitoring group warned early Thursday, as local fighters retreated from one of the area’s fronts.

“The ISIS have advanced southeast of Kobane and on the western front, from which the Kurdish Popular Defense Committees (YPG) have now retreated,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman, using the Kurdish name Kobane to refer to the town.

“There are real fears that the ISIS may be able to advance into the town of Kobane itself very soon,” Abdel Rahman warned.

The advances came hours after U.S.-led forces carried out at least five strikes against ISIS positions south and southeast of the town, which the jihadists have been battling to take for more than two weeks, the Observatory said.

At least eight jihadists were killed in a strike on an ISIS tank east of the town on Wednesday, said the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria for its reports.

“Kurdish fighters on the front lines saw the bodies literally being thrown into the air” by the force of the blast, said Abdel Rahman.

Despite the air strikes, the jihadists continued to shell the town on the Turkish border from positions as little as three kilometers (two miles) away.

“The fighting in the past 24 hours has been the fiercest since the ISIS began its offensive” a fortnight ago, said Abdel Rahman.

“There are real fears for the Kurds’ capacity to resist, as the ISIS are using tanks and other heavy weaponry in their attack,” he added.

Abdel Rahman said the vastly outgunned Kurdish fighters were forced by the jihadists’ advance to retreat from the fight on the western outskirts of Kobane, in order to defend the edges of the town itself.

Kurdish security forces inside Kobane “are preparing themselves for street battles” that would break out should the jihadists break the local fighters’ last remaining line of defense, said Abdel Rahman.

Hundreds of poorly equipped Kurdish fighters are facing thousands of jihadists armed with tanks, heavy artillery and 220mm multiple rocket launchers.

Local Kurdish leader Anwar Muslim acknowledged the balance of forces favored the jihadists.

“ISIS have brought in the weapons they seized from Mosul (Iraq’s second city) and Tabqa airbase (in Syria’s Raqa province),” he said.

ISIS seized large stocks of heavy weaponry from fleeing Iraqi troops when they captured Mosul in June. They took more when they overran the Syrian army garrison at Tabqa in late August.

Kurdish leaders have appealed to the U.S.-led coalition battling ISIS to provide air support to the town’s defenders.

“We are trying to push them (the jihadists) back with the help of the coalition’s strikes. They are our common enemy,” said Muslim.

The Observatory had earlier reported that at least 10 people had been executed by the group on Tuesday, including a civilian and three Kurdish female fighters, who were beheaded.

A Kurdish male fighter was beheaded along with the women, and another five fighters were also executed in a separate incident in the area, the Observatory said.

The jihadist offensive has sparked an exodus of at least 160,000 mainly Kurdish refugees into Turkey.

“There are still thousands of civilians inside the town,” said the Observatory’s Abdel Rahman.

Ain al-Arab would be a key prize for ISIS, giving it unbroken control of a long stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border.

 
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